Let’s face it. For most of us, Christ was taken out of Christmas a long time ago. This includes even many devoted Christians. It is only when watching A Charlie Brown Christmas that most of us give any thought at all to the true meaning of Christmas. Across the globe the Christmas contagion is spreading. This includes many non-Christian countries where Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus. Instead, Christmas is personified by the harmless and benevolent presence of Santa Claus, in all his myriad cultural manifestations. In Tokyo or Beijing, you would have to look hard for a Christian church but Santas, Christmas trees and rampant holiday shopping abounds. Rather than celebrating Jesus’ birth, today Christmas is tangentially about a generic feeling of spreading good cheer. Mostly it is about buying and getting stuff. The world would sink into a depression were there were no Christmas economy.
Like most of you, I saw unwelcome signs of Christmas way back in September, when an aisle stocked with popular Christmas toys and artificial Christmas trees first appeared in our local BJs. Most retailers will refrain from playing Christmas music until Black Friday, but many are sneaking in Christmas songs starting in early November. It is obvious to me that capitalism is our state religion and mammon is our state god. The devout among us may hustle to church once a week or more, but given our super-sized houses and the SUVs lined up in our driveways, is there really any doubt about where are real values lie? Give all your possession to the poor and follow Jesus? That stuff is so dated. Today it is laughable and suitable only for Salvation Army volunteers and cloistered monks and nuns.
Given the hollowness that seems to be at the root of our modern Christmas, it is no wonder so many people like my wife would be happy to skip Christmas altogether. Yet like all of us, each year she is caught in its vortex. Denial does not work for long and only adds to the pain. This year she also threw a vertebra. She is still popping the pain pills and running to chiropractors. This meant that I have carried an extra amount of the Christmas madness this year. Increasingly I, like her, ask myself why I am doing this.
I am doing it in part because we always do it, and my neighbors do it, everyone except the Jews and the Muslims seem to do it (and many of the Jews do it just for the fun or to blend in) and because it is expected. In addition, there is this tradition in our house called The Christmas Dinner. My relatives from the immediate area descend on our house. There they revel in our Christmas tree, eat our highly caloric and fattening food and after a few hours shuffle back to their houses and their clean kitchens. Meanwhile, my feeling of good cheer is manifest in my dishpan hands.
Aside from writing checks to charities, which I do routinely near the end of the year, I did accomplish one small little act in spirit of a Dickensian Christmas. A couple weeks back I read how neighborhood food banks were running dry. People were going hungry at a time when food banks are normally overrun with food. The likely culprit is the higher cost of food, fed by our ravenous desire for energy. Instead of filling USDA warehouses, much of our grain crop is instead going into producing ethanol and bio-diesel fuels. I took the news article as my belated personal call to action. I went to the BJs and loaded the back of my car with nearly $200 in food. Only, I could find no place to readily donate the food. I did not particularly want to drive into Washington DC to donate it. I ended up waiting a few days and donating it to Reston Interfaith. The news reports were sadly accurate. I was hoping that more like me would feel called to buy food for the poor. Yet I arrived to find that their pantry nearly bare. My donations went right into food baskets for the hungry.
So what is Christmas really about these days? We need to face the truth. Christmas has become a reason to buy stuff for people we know, much of which they neither particularly need nor want. This giving is often done at the expense of the poor who need things like food to avoid hunger or money to live in some place bigger than a cardboard box. Perhaps due to this incongruity, as my daughter and I assembled our Christmas tree this year, instead of putting Bing Crosby on the stereo system, we put on Bob Rivers‘ CD of Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire instead.
Bob Rivers is a radio personality on KZOK in Seattle, Washington. This present, thoughtfully given to us some years back by my irreverent and atheist brother Tom, is the perfect rejoinder to our overly commercialized Christmas season. It is actually one of a number of Bob Rivers’ irreverent Christmas CDs. You can order these CDs from his web site. Finally, you can laugh along to new lyrics to those Christmas carols so burned into your brain you wish you could purge them but cannot.
Given the recently released Chipmunks movie, Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is especially relevant this year. I do not know about you, but I hate those damned animated chipmunks. I hated them even when I was a small child. They were even more annoying than that prancing and singing purple dinosaur I had to endure when my daughter was growing up and whose name I loathe to repeat. Few images conjure up more delight in me than having those three chipmunks dripping in barbeque sauce over a hot hibachi. Yet, as delightful as this song is, the most apropos for the season was actually Christmas Money (sung to the tune of Money, That’s What I Want), which hilariously summarizes the mindless greed of the holidays. On the Bob Rivers’ web site, you can listen to samples from this CD.
Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire is bawdy, hilarious, irreverent and helps put our whole strange modern manifestation of Christmas season into its proper place. Bob Rivers must have good connections in the Seattle area because he gets some amazing imitators for famous singers. For example, he highlights a singer who imitates Karen Carpenter so well that it is as if she is still alive. Other songs ring surprisingly true. Homeless for the Holidays, for example, captures quite well the true feelings many of us have toward the homeless, given how we tend to ignore them except for during the holiday season. Decorations, sung to a Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations song, parodies our excessiveness with Christmas lights. Pokemon (sung to the tune of Tidings of Comfort and Joy) hilariously makes fun at the craziness of getting your kid that impossible to find toy for Christmas.
Every song is hilarious. Of course, you cannot get these songs for free, at least not legally. However, if you shell out $13.98 on Bob River’s web site you can get it as well as purchase many of his other likely hilarious musical parodies.
It is wrong to be evil during the Christmas season, but in my mind, it is okay to be a bit naughty. Next year, let loose the phoniness and sanctimoniousness of the season. Fill yourself with irreverent holiday mirth instead by listening to Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.